Monday 5 December 2011

Advent with Austen - A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith

For anyone who doesn't know, there is an event taking place currently to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. In advent, we are reading Austen, and so far it's making me very happy. I fell in love with Austen aged around fourteen after reading Pride and Prejudice and her books have quickly fallen into the category of 'comfort reading' - the highest honour I can give a book. Having said that, the only books I owned prior to last week were Emma and Persuasion, both of which I have already read this year, as I originally started reading Jane in the form of one of those giganto - books with really thin paper and tiny font, containing all six of her novels, so I've been on a quest. While I haven't yet manged to find a either Pride & Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility in any of my local charity shops (a total shocker in a city full of students that contains not one, not two, but three universities!), I have just today managed to get hold of Lady Susan, The Watsons & Sanditon which is what I plan to read next, and a copy of Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, the book on which the film (that I've still yet to see) was based. Anyway, the only Austen -related reading I managed to get hold of ready for the beginning of advent was Lori Smith's memoir, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love and Faith.
From Goodreads:
At thirty-three, dealing with a difficult job and a creeping depression, Lori Smith embarked on a life-changing journey following the life and lore of Jane Austen through England.
With humor and spirit, Lori leads readers through landscapes Jane knew and loved–from Bath and Lyme, to London and the Hampshire countryside–and through emotional landscapes in which grace and hope take the place of stagnation and despair. Along the way, Lori explores the small things, both meanness and goodness in relationships, to discover what Austen herself knew: the worth of an ordinary life.

This book reminded me quite a lot of Eat, Pray, Love, which I read and enjoyed earlier this year. Lori Smith, like Elizabeth Gilbert, is coming from a major life event - in her case a bout of depression and four months of recovering from a mysterious 'virus'. Wanting to be a writer, she saves up and takes a year off to see if she can do it. A dedicated Janeite, she goes to England for a month with the aim of visiting the places which were important in Jane's life and writing, and the sense of adventure she brings to the exploit makes the book a really engaging read.

Starting off in Oxford (where I have never been), A Walk with Jane Austen had a lot of personal interest for me as it travelled through London (where I lived for 23 years), and Canterbury (where I have worked for the past six months). Although I hugely objected to Ms Smith's description of Canterbury Cathedral as "oppressive and lifeless", that is purely down to difference of opinion, for which I suppose I will have to forgive her. The bit about Canterbury was the only bit of the book which made me angry, though - the rest of the book I loved and couldn't wait to get back to reading it.

The journey with Jane is tied in closely with Lori Smith's personal journey, and she uses the trip to explore her faith in great depth, which was another thing that put me in mind of Eat, Pray, Love. Again for me with my own religious beliefs and queries, I actually found that this made the book more enjoyable for me rather than less, as it raised questions for me not just about literature (which is always awesome), but also about the kind of person I want to be and the way that I live my life, which I think I often forget that I need to think about. Despite there probably being more Lori than Jane in the book, she did manage to slip the autobiographical information in with the landscape brilliantly. Austen is so much part of the landscape of the English countryside anyway, but it was nice to read about the real life places which influenced the novels.

With the exception of the Canterbury chapter, and the bit about Lyme, where Ms Smith stayed in an incredibly vivdly described filthy hotel room, all of the places she visited are places that I would love to visit. Box Hill is a place I used to visit a lot as a child, both with my family and on school trips, so I was as excited reading about her visit there as I was reading about the picnic in Emma, and Bath is a beautiful city which I have only fleetingly visited once and would love to return to. A Walk with Jane Austen inspired me to read and re-read all of Jane's novels, and everything I can get my hands on about her life and works, but it also filled me with wanderlust. I want to go roaming aroud the countryside in my hiking boots!
Bring it on!!


  1. Every year for the last 5 years I've been visiting an Austen-related place. I'm missing Oxford (did she go there?). This year was Lyme Regis and next year I'm setting my eyes on some Houses of the screen adaptations.

    Interesting that you found the religious part made the book more enjoyable. I think it would have the opposite effect on me, but I'm a sarcastic atheist :)

  2. I haven't seen this book before! Thanks for sharing. :)

    You should check out my Jane Austen-themed giveaway over on my blog! It's ending on the anniversary of Jane's birthday, so the 16th.